THESE three phalluses in bronze are so many amulets which the ancients were accustomed to wear: the men in order to keep away sorceries, the women for the same object, and also in order that they might become fruitful when they wished. Some of these amulets were made of isinglass, others of bone, ivory, terra cotta, or other material.
Figures 1 and 2 are represented with the rings which were used to suspend them, and No. 3 is perforated with two holes in the form of eyes, through which doubtless a chain was passed.
We have already spoken at sufficient length, both in the Introduction and in the explanation of Plate 7, of the consecration of phalluses, and we have said that the origin of this practice might be traced to the mysteries of Isis; but there exists on this subject another version exceedingly ridiculous and improbable, which nevertheless is dwelt upon very seriously by grave writers, among others, by Clement of Alexandria and Arnobius; but Larcher 1 points out with reason that the Fathers of the Church sometimes allowed themselves to be so far carried away by their zeal for Christianity, or, rather, by their hatred of paganism, as to admit for true absurdities which the heathens themselves would have repudiated.
Clement of Alexandria thus seriously endeavours to show how foul was the origin of the pagan ceremonies Bacchus most ardently desired to descend to Hades, but he was ignorant of the road thither; Prosymnus offered to act as his guide, provided he would accord him a recompense. This recompense would have been dishonourable for any one but Bacchus he was asked to accord to his guide his secret favours.
"Prosymnus having explained himself more clearly, the god promised, on oath, to satisfy him, in case he returned from his expedition. Being guided on the road, he carried out his project; but, on his return, he learnt that Prosymnus was dead. He forthwith proceeded to his tomb to acquit himself of his debt, and there invoked his embraces. Having then broken off the branch of a fig-tree, he cut it into the shape of a phallus, and seating himself upon it, fulfilled to the dead the promise he had made to the living.
"After this event, the phallus was carried in procession through towns in honour of Bacchus, in order to preserve the mystic memory of his deed." 1
The following is the version of Arnobius:
"When Nysius-Semelcius Liber 2 was still among men, he desired greatly to become acquainted with the infernal regions, and to ascertain what was going on in the realms of Tartarus. But this curiosity of his was attended by some difficulties, seeing that, the journey being an unknown one, he knew not which way to proceed. But a certain Prosumnus, prone
enough to improper longings, who had conceived a passion for the god, arose and promised to point out to him the gate of Dis and the entrance to Acherusia, if the god would gratify him, and he might be allowed to take from him uxorious pleasures. The easy god swore by his power and will that it should be done, but not till he had returned from hell, safe and sound. Prosumnus courteously showed the way, and stood on the threshold itself of the infernal regions. In the meantime, while Liber reviewed curiously the lake of Styx, Cerberus, the Furies, and other things, his guide was struck off from the number of the living, and buried according to human fashion. Evyus 1 emerged from the Shades, and finding that his guide was dead, in order that he might fulfil his compact and absolve himself from the obligation of the oath he had sworn, proceeded to his place of burial, and cutting off one of the stoutest branches of a fig-tree, he chipped, stripped, smoothed, and shaped it into form, upon which he fixed it in the earth that covered the tomb, and having stripped himself, sat down on it."
57:1 Larcher, Note 167 on the Second Book of Herodotus.
58:1 Clement of Alexandria, Prtrept., page 29.
58:2 Bacchus was surnamed Liber, because wine delivers from all care, and sets the mind at liberty; Nysius, from Nysa, the name of his nurse; Semeleius, from Semele, his mother.
59:1 Another surname of Bacchus, derived from Evohe, his war-cry.